Featured Artists: Anwar Sonya, Hassan Meer, Budoor Al Riyami, Radhika Khimji, RaiyaAl Rawahi
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The inaugural exhibition in Venice brings together the work of three generations of Omani artists whosepractice spans five decades of modern and contemporary visual art in Oman. Exploring the dynamicand intergenerational dialogue of Oman’s art movement over the past fifty years, the multimedia display will reveal the breadth of Oman’s cultural history and unique traditions in the visual arts on aninternational scale. The Sultanate’s participation in the59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennaledi Venezia, along with an accompanying series of national programmes, aims to have a profound impactfor Omani culture on the world stage and locally.
The exhibiting artists represent an unbroken thread of influence in Omani art from thelast fifty years totoday. They include:Anwar Sonya, a pioneer of modern Omani art since the 1970s, one of the foundersof the Youth Studio, an important teaching institution;Hassan Meer,artist andfounder oftheexperimental art movement The Circle,whose exhibitions from the late 1990s gained an internationalfollowing and influenced another generation of artists;Budoor Al Riyami,a pupil of Sonya’s and acontemporary of Hassan Meer,whose current practice focuses on photography and video installation;Radhika Khimji,an internationally renowned artist interested in textiles, construction and personalnarratives, who was also a member ofThe Circle, andRaiya Al Rawahi, a leading curator and artist ofthe young generation, who died in 2017 at the age of just 30. In Venice a group of her final works will be shown.
His Highness Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham Al Said, Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, said:“It is my great pleasure to introduce an initiative under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, Sportsand Youth that will take place from the Spring of 2022. The Sultanate of Oman will participate throughits inaugural National Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.Thisparticipation presents a unique global platform for the Sultanate of Oman to introduce its contemporaryvisual artists and engage in worldwide dialogue with other national pavilions in showcasing Omani excellence.”
His Excellency Sayyid Saeed Al Busaidi, Commissioner, Undersecretary for the Ministry ofCulture, Sports and Youth,said:“We are honoured to be able to present our artists and creativehistoryfor the worldto seein Venice for the first time where we shall feature three generations ofOmani artists.Equally as important, the Ministry will build capacity by delivering programmes across the nation to coincide with the exhibition in Venice.The programmes include the Mentorshipprogramme, the Internship programme and the Oman lecture series.These will helpto enhance the creative skills of our youth, whileinspiring new generations to enhance and progress the evolution ofthe nation’s creative capital into the future”.
Dr Aisha Stoby, Curator of the Sultanate of Oman’s Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition-La Biennale di Venezia,s aid: “Each of the five artists chosen to represent Oman at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Veneziahave made a significant and distinct contributions to their communities, activating Oman’s contemporary art movement over the past fiftyyears, and inspiring a new generation. We believe that their participation in Venice, and the followingtouring programme in Oman, with opportunities for our young generation to experience the widerworld of contemporary art in Venice, will play an important role in Oman’s development and the future of Omani contemporary art.
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Notes to Editors:
About Oman’s Cultural Mission
The Sultanate of Oman is located on the south-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Formerly a maritime empire, Oman is the oldest continuously independent state in the Arab world and is ruled by the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth is the governmental body in the Sultanate of Oman, responsible for promoting and preserving Omani culture and heritage, and it is the Commissioner of the Oman Pavilion in Venice. The Ministry’s responsibility for the arts comprises fine arts, theatre, music and cinema with the overall goal of enhancing national and international engagement through world-class programmes of exhibitions, festivals and international cultural exchange.
The Omani Government has a long history of supporting culture. Investment in the country’s infrastructure to expand the visual arts sector started in the early 1960s with art education being made compulsory in schools, followed by the establishment of the British Council in Oman in 1972 to develop the cultural skills of young Omanis, the introduction of visual art programmes at universities and the establishment of the Omani Society for Fine Arts by the Government in 1993. As the official arts hub of Oman, the Society’s role is to sponsor and raise awareness of the fine arts, to enrich Omani and Arabic culture and heritage, to protect artists rights, to encourage the younger generation of upcoming artists and to strengthen relationships with members of the wider Arabic and international cultural community.
In 2020 by Royal Decree, the separate Ministries of Art Affairs, Heritage and Culture, Sports and Youth amalgamated to create the Ministry of Culture Sports and Youth, led by His Highness Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham bin Tariq Al Said. The Government backing of the Sultanate of Oman’s Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2022 is another major step in the Ministry’s overall mission to support the visual arts in Oman to and to reinforce its position within the global cultural community.
For information about the Oman Pavilion and its location in the Arsenale, Venice, visit: www.omanpavilion.org
For further information about Oman visit: www.experienceoman.om/press-kits
About Dr Aisha Stoby, Curator of the Sultanate of Oman’s Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia
Dr Aisha Stoby is curator and organiser of the Sultanate of Oman’s Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. She is an Omani art historian and curator, having completed her PhD, Modern Art Movements in Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia (1940 – 2007) at The University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Prior to this she received her master’s degree from London’s Royal College of Art in Curating Contemporary Art and holds a bachelor’s degree in History of Art and Archaeology from SOAS. Dr Stoby has curated a range of exhibitions and has published and lectured widely on the topic of modern art, with a particular focus on modern art from Oman and the Middle East.
About the Artists
Anwar Sonya has been a pioneer of modern Omani art since the 1970’s. He was one of the founders of the Youth Studio, an important teaching institution for many Omani artists. Primarily inspired by Omani heritage, he depicts Oman’s landscape, Bedouin women, and a range of spiritual subjects through his contemporary vision. His driving force as an artist has been his country’s rich history and he is known for saying that “the past is important in building identity and shaping the future”. The iconic realism style in his art developed over the past six decades was inspired by the Omani landscape and some of the scenes of popular daily life in Oman. Anwar Sonya has won many awards in the Sultanate of Oman, including this year’s Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) award for his regional contribution to the creative sector, His Majesty’s 1993 Award in the Civic Service and the award of Best Artist in the United Arab Emirates for his international participation. He created a range of experimental works with Circle Group – a ground-breaking media art collective established by Hassan Meer – and continues to paint his distinct portrayals of Omani landscapes and portraits. Most young Omani artists are influenced by his style and method of painting, making him the leading established artist in the Sultanate of Oman. Sonya has gained a reputation as a ‘Godfather’ of modern art, both in Muscat and throughout the region. He has been incredibly supportive of local art movements and is deeply respected in neighbouring countries.
Hassan Meer is the recipient of several awards and is one of the best-known Omani artists internationally. He grew up in Muscat and later went on to complete his BA and MA in Fine Arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia, USA. While abroad he began to develop his practices in both painting and video art. He is one of the artists that Anwar Sonya mentored closely during his time at the Youth Studio. Upon his return to Muscat, he formed the art collective known as Circle Group and organised the first Circle exhibition in the late 1990s. The inaugural and subsequent Circle editions have aimed to nurture and promote experimental art methodologies in Oman. The Circle Group has gained a wide following and reach beyond Muscat, and now includes artists and collaborators spanning the rest of the Gulf, Pakistan, Lebanon, South Africa, Austria, Japan, Morocco, and Germany. Meer’s ultimate aim was to channel this mission into an exhibition space, which has been achieved through his directorship at Muscat’s Stal Gallery. Meer’s body of work, and his contributions to the local art scene through Circle Group, amongst other initiatives, has led to the foundation of the local conceptual and experimental art movement. Known for his diverse multimedia practices produced in large scale, which he has presented locally and internationally, Meer frequently makes use of video installations and staged photographic series, focussing on narratives from the history of Oman, with a particular interest in culture and spirituality. Since 2000, numerous solo exhibitions as well as participations in group exhibitions, have included the Kunstmuseum Bonn; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Mori Museum, Tokyo; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark.
Budoor Al Riyami
Budoor Al Riyami is a multi-media artist from Oman. Upon her graduation from Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, she won the Grand Prize at the 13th Asian Art Biennale in 2008 with her innovative work; a video installation The Peak of Burning, which was one of the very few artworks employing modern technologies on display at the event. Riyami also participated in the Circle Group’s exhibitions in 2005 and 2007. She works in a range of mediums such as painting and sculpture, and currently focuses on photography and video installation. Riyami was another pupil of Sonya’s and is a contemporary of Hassan Meer’s. Her collaborations with Meer over the past decades have immersed exhibition spaces of all sizes. Together in Venice, they have the capacity to establish Oman’s historical narrative, while making a strong visual impact for a global audience of art. Radhika Khimji Radhika Khimji is an internationally renowned artist, whose interest in textiles, construction and personal narratives are deeply inspired by her home country of Oman. Her work often engages with Oman’s landscape, including her Safe Landings installation at Barka Fort. Khimji was also a member of the pioneering Circle Group, alongside her artist peers in Muscat. She completed her bachelor’s studies at the Slade School of Fine Art, and went on to complete an MA in Art History at University College London and an additional MA at the Royal Academy of Arts. Khimji has exhibited her unique mixture of media internationally. She is represented by Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna, and Experimenter, India, and she has exhibited abroad in a range of major international exhibitions including the 2015 Marrakech Biennale, Morocco, and the Ghetto Biennale in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Selected solo exhibitions include Adorning Shadows at Experimenter, India; Shift at Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna; and On the Cusp at Stal Gallery, Muscat.
Raiya Al Rawahi
One of the leaders of the current generation of Omani artists was self-taught sound installation artist Raiya Al Rawahi. Her influences come from a multitude of sources, ranging from philosophy to medicine, and her 2015 sound installation was awarded first prize for the inaugural Stal Gallery Young Emerging Artist Prize. Rawahi described her practice as, ‘Sounds and objects used to represent a journey from indoctrination to skepticism to enlightenment.’ Raiya Al Rawahi’s work mainly consists of documenting and repositioning daily objects accompanied by her visceral soundtracks. Her particular interest lies in the discrepancies we live with, the tensions and peaceful harmonies of our daily existence. A leading curator and artist of the young generation of Omani artists, Rawahi tragically passed away in 2018. This important participation in Venice will display some of her final works